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Winter management tips

We are right in the middle of winter here in the UK, and the weather really does throw up some difficulties for managing our horses and trying to keep them in work.

This weeks tips, the first of 2021, are all about ways to manage your horse when the weather and conditions are against you, to keep their systems functioning well.

Tip 1: Snow days…how best to deal with your horse?

There are SO many factors to consider when it’s been snowing - safety, enough food and water, and movement are the most important.

Horses aren’t evolved to be stabled, they are what we call ‘nomadic’ by nature, which means that in the wild they cover a large amount of miles per day looking for food, water and shelter, so food, water and movement are important factors for horses.

If we turn them out, is there enough to eat if the grass is covered with snow? To counteract this you could put some hay out for them. Maybe they could have half a day in the field and then an exercise session later in the day if it’s safe to do so, to keep your horses system moving.

It’s essential that your horses digestive system is trickle fed, as this is how they are evolved to eat, so just a bit of forward planning will help your 4 legged friend on snow days!

This is such an important factor for horses in the winter months, and something that we need to be planning around.

Tip 2: Lack of movement

Exercise/movement has so many positive benefits to our horses, including increased circulation, effective digestion, maintaining muscle tone, increased joint function, maintaining core and postural muscle strength.

Colic is a risk in horses that are stabled a lot, and this is due to lack of movement, and lack of stimulation of the digestive system.

If our horses are stabled, they are mainly standing still during that time, and are normally stabled for many more hours during the winter than the rest of the year. So if you can’t turnout for whatever reason, have a brainstorm about different ways that you can include movement in your horses daily routine….here are a few ideas:

  • arena turnout
  • yard turnout
  • half a day in the field instead of a full day
  • exercise at both ends of the day
  • hand grazing
  • core activation exercises
  • in hand exercises
  • lunging / long reining / groundwork

Tip 3: Mud!

Mud rash / mud fever, whatever you want to call it, MUD can be the bain of a horse owners life in the wettest part of winter!

I have dealt with lots of horses suffering with the scabs and sores associated with mud fever, and have found ways to manage it successfully.

The most important tip that I can give you is DON’T WASH YOUR HORSES LEGS OFF when they come in from the field, no matter how wet and muddy they are! If you keep continually wetting the legs you are disrupting the skins barrier making the problem worse.

The best way to deal with mud fever and wet legs, is to put dry wraps onto your horses legs on top of the mud, this warms the legs quite quickly, drying them much more quickly than if you had rinsed them off. Then brush the dried mud off in the morning.

Simple tip, but I have seen horses with open sores on their legs because of continual washing in the winter, so this method is much more effective.

Tip 4: Boredom

Longer time stabled, less turnout, less exercise, less social contact, there are so many reasons for horses to become bored in the winter.

Horses are evolved to live outdoors and move around, covering up to 20 miles per day in the wild. So our domesticated routines are the total opposite of their natural lifestyle, especially when they are stabled in the winter months here in the UK.

So considering their potential boredom when stabled due to unnatural circumstances for them, there is plenty that we can do to help them with this!

  • Variable feeding positions: split hay into several nets and position around the stable
  • Treat balls: noisy but really helpful to give the horse something to focus on/move around with
  • Daily grooming for interest, and good for their superficial circulation
  • Split their daily exercise into 2-3 short sessions
  • Core activation exercises in the stable or barn

Tip 5: Water intake

Horses seem to drink less water when the weather is cold, and we have the problem of the water being too cold for their liking, and freezing over.

Dehydration leading to impaction colic is more common in the winter months so another part of winter management is finding ways to increase our horses water intake.

Here are few tips to encourage your horse to drink more water…

  • Warming the water slightly can make it more appealing to your horse
  • Switching from automatic waters to buckets will allow you to monitor whether your horse is drinking enough
  • Feeding sugarbeet (properly soaked) as it has a high water content
  • Add some salt to your horses feed, this can encourage them drink more
  • Soaked hay contains a lot more water than dry hay
  • Exercise should encourage your horse to drink more water too

I hope these tips are helpful for you to try and keep your horse healthy and safe when the weather is against us! 

If you would like to know my series of Core mobilisation and activation exercises that can be done in your stable over the winter, click through to my Online Learning Platform page where you will find all of the details on what's included! 

CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS: Online Learning Platform

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